Wednesday, April 13, 2005

Spiked has the Measure of this Issue

The beeb, with characteristic false self-deprecation, seems to be quite happy to promulgate the oldest urban myth that TV viewing screws up your child. The version of this rubbish is updated to fit the zeitgeist. Seeing as bullying is the issue of the moment, the current theme is run out as "TV viewing will turn your child into a bully".

Spiked seems to have the measure of this issue.

Yep...this sort of research is rubbish. It is entirely pseudo-scientific. Not one of the so-called facts is falsifiable. Every single possible explanation cannot be tested against the data, since all other possible explanations could also fit. ie: children who watch more telly may bully more, (if that is indeed the case), because they watch telly, or because they eat more junk, or because they don't get the moral information that they need, or because dad tries to get them off the telly all the time and they build up a lurking resentment which they then let loose on some unsuspecting victim or because they are being bullied so badly at school that TV and bullying provide them with the only forms of escape and retribution, etc, etc.

These studies are a fine example of foul play. What happens is that someone with an entrenched, and therefore beyond rational criticism, idea of the high principle of self-denial, sets out to prove his hypothesis with an investigation that cannot, in principle, be categorised as science, but which will pass for such with quite a few of us saps.


Hieronymous said...

Absolutely agree. The University of Washington's team or the journalist reporting had obviously decided on an outcome in advance! Even though their own words actually revealed the shortcomings of their argument, e.g. 'could', 'might'.

The prof of Birmingham University made a more reasonable assessment when he said: "parents who don't take a great interest in their children....are also those who emotionally neglect them or physically assault them." To be more accurate he would have had to include the words "are more likely to..".

However, I don't know if it matters that it is impossible to be entirely scientific on these matters. If one is truth seeking surely it is essential to assess ideas constantly and to hazard best guesses before getting to a scientific elimination of theories? Also, literally any theory based on human behaviour, which is shifting and difficult to assess objectively,is unscientific; yet, I think it would be false to imply that a lack of scientific testability means a theory has no value. Neither, therefore, would it be reasonable to suggest that one should prevent the formation of theories about people and their behaviour if one can not _ever_ test them scientifically. TCS being a good example of this.

I suppose you might have been saying that what was offensive about the BBC article was the attempt to give scientific weight and certainty to a very poor, ill thought out argument, since the manipulation of information away from an attempt to seek the truth is immoral, and particularly if it is likely to influence people's behaviour. Perhaps it could potentially damage families who read such things and apply ignorant conclusions to their children without thought? Or is it likely that the sort of people who jump to the conclusion sold to them by the journalist have already made their minds up without argument anyway? Therefore, all such reporting is to comfort and confirm the views of the majority of the public and not to challenge and improve our thoughts anyway.

It is possible that journalism *never* intends to improve and is therefore not a place to look for good arguments.

Carlotta said...

Yes, your penultimate paragraph says it exactly, with both options re effects being highly likely, I think. This is desperately sad, as TV is of course the most excellent source of information.

In weaker moments, I cannot help but wonder if there are some mysterious vested interests in denigrating the educational power and value of TV. I honestly think that a child could sit in front of Sky and learn far more than they would ever learn in the same amount of time in a classroom.

Also, in terms of content which I dunno, perhaps they were implying that this is the element of TV that is responsible for turning children into bullies, but I cannot easily think of many instances of bullying being held up exemplary behaviour on TV.

Also, I quite agree: there is no problem with phrasing theories about human behaviour in philosophical terms.

Disagree though re last para...A significant amount of journalism is of a distinctly deliberately improving nature. Boris Johnson's debacle in Liverpool springs to mind, for some reason. His intent was to alert people to the existence and dangers of the victim mentality, which I think he did rather admirably by demonstrating how to cope with being a genuine when sent to Liverpool to apologise and be vilified...Sorry...won't have a word spoken against Boris. I deludedly see myself as being indirectly formative in his upbringing!

Hieronymous said...

Yes; my last paragraph was tongue in cheek. In what I hoped was *true* journalistic style I was postulating a ludicrous theory backed up with inadequate evidence!!

I too like Boris Johnson. I particularly liked what he said about the supposed defamatory article, "My view of our piece is that it spoke a lot of good sense, vitiated by tastelessness and inaccuracy. " Lol

Although I do also appreciate his blonde hair and florid good looks...and of course his obviously strong desire to expose fraud and hypocrisy for what he sees it to be.

Carlotta said...

>Yes; my last paragraph was tongue in cheek

Phew...I thought you might have been reading a little too much of the New Statesman or the Mail for your own good :)

Yeah, Boris is OK, I think. He says: "People tend to tie themselves in knots these days trying to explain what Conservatism is. Are we libertairan, authoritarian, vegetarian or rotarian? Should we be a little bit Rastafarian now and then? Here is how I think we should be: free-market, tolerant, broadly libertarian (though not, perhaps, ultra-libertarian), inclined to see the merit of tradition, anti-regulation, pro-immigrant, pro-standing on your own two feet, pro-alcohol, pro-hunting, pro-motorist and ready to defend to the death the right of Glenn Hoddle to believe in reincarnation."

He needs working on with regards to education/discipline/children's issues though. I suspect this is where his non-libertarian credentials make themselves most apparent, insofar as his almost total lack of interest in this type of subject suggests that he is quite happy with the status quo.